Photo of the Week – November 14, 2014

The praying mantis is an impressive predator, especially when it’s a Chinese mantis the length of a ball point pen.  The ones who live around here seem to have a particular affinity for sphinx moths.  I haven’t yet watched the capture take place, but I’ve seen the mantises (mantes? mantids? critters?) devouring their fuzzy prey several times, including one I photographed last year.  Almost exactly a year later, I took the following photos at the same prairie.

A Chinese mantis feeding on a sphinx moth.  Lincoln Creek Prairie; Aurora, Nebraska.

A Chinese mantis feeding on a sphinx moth. Lincoln Creek Prairie; Aurora, Nebraska.

You can see from the photo how well this mantis can hide – it is exactly the same color as the pitcher sage (Salvia azurea) plant it was hunting on, and its shape and texture blend in perfectly.  Other mantis species around the world have even more sophisticated camouflage, which almost seems unfair.

ENPO140828_D056

ENPO140828_D057

After watching the mantis for a little while, I decided to try out the video function on my camera.  I’ve been trying to do a little more video work lately anyway.  If you’ve always wanted to see watch a mantis eat up close – and who wouldn’t want to?? – here’s your chance.  The barking in the background is from the dogs in the nearby animal shelter who were apparently excited to watch a prairie ecologist take video of a praying mantis…

My favorite shot of the day was this last one.  There is sure a lot of personality in a mantis face…

"Just trying to eat here... do you mind?"

“Just trying to eat here… do you mind?”

Chinese mantises are, of course, not native to the U.S., but as far as I can tell from bug-smart friends, don’t seem to be having any major negative impacts (neither are they providing the kind of “pest control” they are often introduced to provide).  Some introduced species have certainly become major ecological disasters, but it seems the Chinese mantis is just a new predator for prairie insects to watch out for, and for prairie enthusiasts to enjoy watching.

(Now would be the appropriate time for entomologically-savvy readers to correct my ignorance on the topic of the Chinese mantis and its impacts.  Please do.)

Karen’s Wetland Videos

One of my favorite places within our Platte River Prairies is a restored wetland we usually call “the sandpit wetland” because it is a former sand and gravel mining pit.  We restored the site over about 10 years, a little at a time, and it now features a meandering stream and various side channel, backwater, and off-channel pockets.  You might remember the site from previous posts, including this one about sludge and this one (or this one) about timelapse imagery.

The Derr Sandpit wetland (2013 photo).  The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

The Derr Sandpit wetland (2013 photo). The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

I always enjoy walking around the wetland – even if I’m fighting off invasive species – because there’s so much to see.  I have a pretty good feel for the plant community at the site because it’s easy to find the plants and watch their slow movements around the wetland over time.  There are more invertebrate species than I’ll ever be able to count, of course, let alone see, but I can usually find quite a few of them if I look.  However, it’s harder to see and keep track of the larger animals – the birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals.  For some reason, they don’t usually show themselves when I’m there…  (Especially the otters…. don’t get me started.)

Our timelapse imagery over the last couple years has helped us keep track of some of the wildlife use at the site, but since those cameras only take photos at regular hourly intervals, catching animals in front of the camera is just a happy accident.  Now, however, one of our longest tenured volunteers, Karen Hamburger, has taken it upon herself to find out what’s really out there.  During the last year or so, she’s been setting a trail camera (actually more than one, since at least one was inundated in a flood) in various places around the wetland and capturing views of many wildlife species.

I finally had a chance to go through some of her favorite video clips the other day, and I made a short 3 minute video montage with some of them.  It includes several bird species, beavers, deer, raccoons, and even (sigh) otters.  We knew from tracks and other sign that most of these animals were around, but it’s one thing to see footprints and another to watch the critters themselves!  This video gives us a wonderful and unique perspective on what happens at our wetland when we noisy blundering people aren’t around.

I hope you enjoy it.

 

THANK YOU to Karen for all the work to capture these moments for us, along with all the other work she’s done over the years!

If the video doesn’t display correctly above, you can try clicking HERE instead.